Defiant Saddam accuses minister of running 'death squads' in Iraq

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The Independent Online

Saddam Hussein was cross-examined for the first time in his trial in Baghdad yesterday and used his time in the witness box to accuse the American-backed Iraqi government of running death squads.

The former president of Iraq was told that he and officials of his regime would be charged with genocide and human rights abuse over the killings of thousands of Kurds in the Anfal military campaign in the 1980s. He replied that it was the administration prosecuting him "that kills thousands in the street and tortures them".

Saddam, dressed in a black suit and white shirt, appeared relaxed as he argued with chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman and prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi over the legitimacy of trial. At one stage he read a poem to illustrate its alleged perfidy.

Saddam told Judge Rahman: "If you're scared of the Interior Minister, don't be; he doesn't scare my dog," referring to Bayan Jabr, who is accused of running the "death squads".

Saddam and seven former members of his regime are charged over actions against Shias launched after an assassination attempt against Saddam in the town of Dujail on 8 July, 1982. The retribution allegedly led to 148 Shiites being killed and hundreds being imprisoned and tortured.

Mr Moussawi asked Saddam about his alleged approval for death sentences passed by the Revolutionary Court. "That is one of the duties of the president," Saddam responded. "I had the right to question the judgment. But I was convinced the evidence that was presented was sufficient to show their guilt in the assassination attempt."

Mr Moussawi held up the identification cards of Iraqi teenage boys he said were executed under Saddam's orders; names such as Mahdi Hussein, 14, and Fouad al-Aswady, 15. Saddam dismissed the cards, saying they could easily be forged in any market.

The case continues.

* A suicide car bomb exploded yesterday at a joint US- Iraqi checkpoint, killing at least one Iraqi soldier and four civilians, about 20 miles south of Fallujah. At least seven others were wounded.